***RECOMMENDED*** Not even a bout with the flu that was plaguing some of the cast members of Lyric's latest "Madama Butterfly" could prevent this production from being a smashing success. At a recent Sunday matinee performance, a case of musical chairs took place regarding some of the casting. Thanks to the resourcefulness of Lyric's management, several supporting roles were filled by understudies and singers who were scheduled to perform in a specific role were shifted to another. Not to worry -- none of the principals were affected. It all came off brilliantly without a misstep in a seamlessly cohesive yet firmly traditional staging of Puccini's extremely popular opera. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** It has been 20 years since the boys of "The Boys in the Band" have sashayed across a stage in Chicago. Following a highly publicized production on Broadway starring a cast of big-name actors who are all openly gay men (and the subsequent 2019 Tony Award that it won for Best Revival of a Play), Chicago audiences once again get a chance to see what all the fuss is about for themselves. Mart Crowley's landmark play opened off-Broadway in 1968 in what was originally supposed to be a five day run. A year and a half later, the boys finally disbanded. Thanks to the savvy producers at Windy City Playhouse, who have made a name for themselves by staging immersive theatrical events, they scored the rights to this in-demand show and place you, the audience member, right on the set itself -- directly in the line of fire as these castmates hurl endless verbal hand grenades at one another. 4 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** There was certainly quite a buzz in the air at the recent opening night performance of Liliana Padilla's play "How to Defend Yourself." As the audience members filled the lobby of the Victory Gardens Theater, the anticipation level was extremely high. Once inside and seated in their seats it definitely took on a party atmosphere. Padilla's latest script, developed as part of Victory Gardens 2018 IGNITION Festival of New Plays, was receiving its Co-World Premiere with Actors Theatre of Louisville. The very vocal audience instantly embraced this important and essential work and "How to Defend Yourself" marks the emergence of a major new voice in the American theatre. 3 AND 1/2 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** Two women. One boat. A rift between them that is wider than the Gulf of Mexico itself. As long-held little secrets eventually bubble to the surface during what is supposed to be a leisurely afternoon of fishing and sunbathing on the Alabama Delta, these two lovers of six years must face some pretty harsh realities in playwright Audrey Cefaly's insightful character study "The Gulf." 3 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** For the fifth time in the past 14 years the play "Stop Kiss" is being presented here in Chicago, and each production has been presented by vastly different companies. Ironically, four of the five (including this one) have opened in the month of January. Do we as Midwesterners crave dark and intellectually stimulating works the most to brood over during one of our darkest and traditionally brutally coldest months? Sure seems like it! That's not to say that "Stop Kiss" is a totally heavy piece of theatre that will send you into a deep depression. On the contrary, it is an oftentimes humorous and endearing glimpse at the emerging love that is generated between two very different people. With the alarming rate of anti-Semitic acts rising in the United States and Europe, as well as the increase in hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ community at large (particularly the appalling homicide rate for transgender women of color), now seems to be an opportune time to revisit playwright Diana Son's 1998 off-Broadway hit in a solidly staged co-production of Pride Films and Plays and The Arc Theatre. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
★★★★★ Recently I saw a play about Hitler’s tasters which may have been the start of Meghan Brown’s “The Tasters”, now in its World Premiere at Rivendell Theatre. Brown’s story is not about an actual leader but instead is about a Government that has four major leaders during what appears to be a people’s revolution. The fear of their food being laced with poison causes them to use tasters. The women that we meet are Bianca (Paula Ramirez), Corrine ( Daniellla Pereira) and Elyse (Shariba Rivers).
★★★★★ Marriott Theatre has brought back the true “Grease” with its book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. This is the Chicago version and is quite different that the “Hollywood”, John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John film. This play was written by Chicagoans about a Chicago high school ( Taft High School is Rydell) and this version if far meatier. At the helm of making this pleasurable theatrical experience take place is director Scott Weinstein who truly knows how to use the in-the-round stage at Marriott. He keeps the action moving and allows all four sides of the theater great views.
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** The holidays seem to be a time when more and more theater companies are adding seasonal programming to attract new patrons and entertain large groups or families. The slate of Christmas-themed shows this year seems to be particularly brimming with tantalizing and appealing options. With the field so chock-full of copious goodies, packed tighter than Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, it can be difficult to choose just which show to see. Instead of going to see yet another version of "A Christmas Carol" or "The Nutcracker" why not take a chance and go to see a brand new family-friendly musical that is receiving its world premiere at The Greenhouse Theater Center? "The Land of Forgotten Toys," presented by CPA Theatricals, a Chicago-based non-profit organization, is a show that covers several different genres and is loaded with a ton of heart, robust good cheer and overflowing with genuine joy. 4 HOLIDAY SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** Have you ever stopped and wondered whatever happened to all of those toys that Rudolph discovered on the Island of Misfit Toys? Clearly, Larry Todd Cousineau and Cindy O'Connor have. Both of these talented folks are the creators of "America's Best Outcast Toy," with O'Connor composing the music while the book and lyrics were written by Cousineau. As it turns out, all of these outcast toys are now living in the United States and appearing on a reality competition television program, vying for the title of -- you guessed it -- America's best. This fun holiday diversion is currently enjoying its world premiere at Pride Films and Plays. 3 Holiday SPOTLIGHTS